There are those who see golf as a bit of an old-fashioned game but, at last week’s virtual Women’s Leadership Forum hosted by Mastercard and the R&A, we heard from one Gabe Cervantes from the Institute for the Future. You half expected to hear him talk of golf on the moon and how female golfers could have it to themselves but, as it turned out, he was not looking any further ahead than what was possible for the women’s game in the next 10 years.
Cervantes asked the main speakers to explain how they were contributing to the advance of women’s golf and, before too long, he was seizing on an app which was the work of Vanessa Morbi, the senior director of marketing from Golf Canada. The app was designed to have women of all ages and abilities joining the national body in connecting golfers across the country to form micro or niche communities. “It’s all with a view to giving women golfers a sense of belonging,” Morbi said
As she spoke of the extent to which the app had caught on, so the gentleman from the Future asked, excitedly, about how it would be if the whole world were to adopt her idea.
Annika Sörenstam (above) and Renee Powell, the two guest speakers, picked up on his enthusiasm, with both of them focussing on the thought that women could do with being made to feel more welcome in your average golfing environment.
Though Sörenstam did most of her growing up in Sweden where girls and boys are brought up in the game together, she still knew enough from her travels of what it takes to make a woman golfer feel thoroughly unwelcome.
My own favourite example, here, is of what happened to that former English Women’s champion and Curtis Cup golfer, Marley Spearman. She went to play at one of our famous Open championship links where the clubhouse boasted a handsome revolving front door. In Spearman’s case, it served to have her ushered in and out of the establishment on one and the same revolution.
For Sörenstam, the World Golf Hall of Famer, most of the lousy-welcome reminders attach to arriving at clubs where the women’s changing room is nothing more than a cheap and thoroughly inadequate afterthought. A drab professional’s shop was another thing to get a mention.
Powell had some thoroughly poignant memories of not being wanted. For her, they had started at school. “School was challenging because of the colour of my skin,” she said. Golf eventually afforded her a safe haven as she concentrated on how the ball did not give a damn what colour she was. Yet for much of her golfing journey, she had felt the need to adhere to the advice she was getting from her father who had started a club of his own – Clearview Golf Club in Ohio – in the year she was born.
“It’s important to lean into the phenomenon, not to run away from it.”
What Bill Powell told her was that she needed to break down barriers for people of colour – and that it was by opening doors for herself that she would be opening doors for others. “We all,” she said, “stand on the shoulders of people who come before us.”
The contributions to help move the game forward from the two women who will serve as captains for Team Europe and Team United States at next year’s Junior Solheim Cup also corresponded with what the gentleman from the Future wanted to hear.
Sörenstam talked about the mixed tournament which she and Henrik Stenson should have been hosting this year, a tournament in which men and women were due to play together for the same purse, with only the women’s tees affording their gender a start. As much as anything, she wanted to spread word of how, in Sweden, they encourage men and women to play together.
“I love that idea,” said Powell.
The step-in-the-right-direction which Powell put forward involved military veterans in the States. This former LPGA player and honorary member of the R&A had created a programme for women veterans after going out and finding the likely candidates for herself.
Having first advised her Zoom audience of the sad fact that an average of nearly 20 military veterans commit suicide a day, she made modest mention of how her programme was about saving lives “and bringing the military veterans into a sport we all love, letting them be a part of it.”
There was a bit of an unfair dig at golf writers the world over for not devoting more column inches to the women’s game. Sörenstam and Powell, for example, both suggested it is incumbent on writers to give the same space to women as they do to men. The truth here is that there used to be plenty of women writers who concentrated on the women’s game but who would be destitute, today, had they continued down that road.
With editors in the newspaper, online and TV world giving ever more time and space to such as women’s football, cricket, rugby and cycling, golf is being squeezed out.
Global Golf Post is among the few productions which continue to embrace the women’s game on a regular basis, but there are too many others that don’t.
It remains a problem which needs to be addressed while we are being deluged with such news as how COVID -19 has resulted in a 50-percent increase in golf club sales; and how Sky Sports enjoyed the highest number of female viewing figures for the recent Masters.
Cervantes, along with Ann Cairns, the executive vice chair of Mastercard, both expressed much the same thoughts on how the pandemic had ushered in new trends, and how golf cannot go back to the past.
“It’s important to lean into the phenomenon, not to run away from it,” said Cairns.